Sweet truths suppressed

Why is the Government reportedly against simple health warnings on food, parenting columnist Ian Munro asks.

A couple of months ago I wrote about youngsters and healthy eating, particularly in relation to sugar.

The opposition of the food industry to any legislation requiring health advice, if not a health warning, on sugar-loaded products and their resistance to voluntarily providing that advice brings me back to the topic.

There's conclusive evidence about the adverse health effects of large quantities of sugar not only on youngsters, but also on all of us.

Our body has a very complex system of checks and balances to deal with glucose but in recent years we have been overloading our systems with an excessive sugar intake.

The evidence is also pretty strong that sugar is fuelling the childhood obesity "epidemic'' in the Western world.

A study published in the February edition of the medical journal Pediatrics indicated that "health warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages improved parents' understanding of health harms associated with overconsumption'', decreasing the likelihood of parents buying the drinks for their children.

This is encouraging as soft drinks have no nutritional value and the excessive sugar content feeds and maintains a desire for sweet drinks.

That the food industry opposes advice on labels is puzzling as they maintain that education is part of the solution to the problem and yet a simple, easily read warning on a label is just that, point-of-purchase education.

The suggestion is that the advice should read along the lines of "Drinks with added sugar contribute to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay''.

This is quite factual and hardly scaremongering and was the wording used in the study.

A further fact that could be added is the number teaspoons of sugar in a serving.

This information is usually there in the small print but not all parents are aware that 4g of sugar equates to a teaspoon and that therefore, for example, a serving containing 36g of sugar means nine teaspoons of the stuff.

Again this information would be factual and easily understood. And educational. The consumer is more informed.

Why is the food industry worried? Is it fearful that parents will start making more informed decisions not only about sugary drinks but also about a range of other products containing sugar?

The Government, too, professes to be keen on education campaigns, so why is the current government reportedly against such simple health warnings on food?

Is it more afraid of the food industry than of parents?

Is it more fearful of an industry backlash in some form than it is of the growing and costly health issue of child obesity?

Are both parties worried, for some reason, that simple, point-of-purchase parental education might actually be effective?


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